To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on 2nd Corinthians 15:12-21
There are many verses in Scripture that can inspire and challenge us. Perhaps as we have studied many of these passages in Scripture we have discovered that the Apostle Paul was often the author. As a way to respond to his critics and to defend his ministry Paul often used the sword of his pen. He was great in spreading the gospel message during the first century. Yet as powerful and inspiring as many of his writings are to us, sometimes we forget that many people thought he had just one oar in the water if you know what I mean! As a result of this sentiment, Paul defended himself in our passage this morning and provides us with some wonderful statements about his motive for ministry. For Paul the reason for doing something was just as important as what was being done. Jesus often emphasized this very principle in his teachings. For example during the Sermon on the Mount Jesus criticized those who did good things like fasting, praying or giving for the wrong reasons.
Paul was part of a culture that often glorified and praised the actual deed or action rather than looking at the motive for doing such things. In his relationship with Jesus, Paul came to the realization that fear, guilt, sense of duty, and the desire to impress God or others was not the right way for sharing the gospel message. Paul reveals what drove him to spend his life the way he chose when we wrote:
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus, that if One died for all, then all died; And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2nd Corinthians 5:14-15)
These following words from Paul, “For the love of Christ compels us,” says it all. This was the truth and this was what above all else Paul wanted the Corinthians to believe about him. The primary focus was upon Christ’s love for us and not our love for Him. For Paul, his belief that Christ died upon the cross for humanity became the focus and foundation of his thoughts and actions. Paul truly believed that Jesus died for everyone and this belief shaped and changed his life. Every person Paul met became a recipient of God’s love. Paul came to love others the way that Christ loved and still loves us. Paul also saw more in Jesus’ death than just a way to feel about people. He believed that through the cross we became new creatures in Christ. What does it mean for us in this day and age to be “new creatures in Christ?” I particularly like the answer of the late Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon was a Baptist minister from England nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers” and he offered this explanation of what is meant by “being in Christ.” He believed there were three stages of the human soul in connection with Christ: the first is without Christ, this is the state of nature; the next is in Christ, this is the state of grace; the third is with Christ, that is the state of glory.
Arguably there are few words in Scripture filled with more hope than those contained in verse 17 where it is written:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
In this verse Paul related his feelings about growing older and the future. He believed that this world as he knew it was coming to an end and that a new order, a heavenly order was in its beginning stages that would last forever. Paul believed that when any person accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior that they became a part of that new creation. Truth be told, perhaps some of us might be afraid of this new creation that Paul writes of here in Corinthians. Everything old has passed away writes Paul. If we are honest with ourselves, a lot of us like old things. A lot of us like ourselves just as we are now. When we start talking about a new creation we might feel that it is others who need to change not ourselves. For example, we might think that it is other people who need to treat each other with more respect, not ourselves. If only others would change there would be no need for a new creation. However in reality we know some things might never change. There are hostilities that are thousands of years old still being fought in the Middle East, there are conflicts theologically and politically being fought in our country. There are even battles being waged in our own families, fathers and mothers fighting over power, children fighting with each other and children fighting their parents over who has authority. If we are to find and discover reconciliation and peace in these battles, it will require us to accept the gift of God to make us all new in the gift of Christ. Paul writes for us in theses verses the following:
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the world of reconciliation. (2nd Corinthians 5:18-19)
To illustrate the power of reconciliation, in his book, The Preaching Event, John Claypool tells a story about identical twin brothers. These brothers never married and for years were considered inseparable. When their father died, they took over his store and ran it together in a joyful collaboration. One day a man came in to make a small purchase and paid for it with a dollar. The brother who made the sale placed the dollar on top of the cash register. and walked the customer to the door to say goodbye. When he returned, the dollar bill was gone. He said to his twin brother, “Did you take the dollar bill I left here?” “No, I didn’t,” answered the brother. “Surely, you took it,” he said, “There was nobody else in the store.” The brother became angry: “I’m telling you, I did not take the dollar bill.” From that point, mistrust and suspicion grew until finally the two brothers could not work together. They put a partition right down the middle of the building and made it into two stores. In anger, they refused to speak to each other for about 20 years. One day a stranger pulled up in a car and entered one of the two stores. “Have you been in business very long here?” the stranger asked. “Yes, 30 or 40 years,” was the answer. “Good,” continued the stranger, “I very much need to tell you something. He went on to explain that nearly twenty years ago he was passing through their town. He was out of work and homeless. He jumped off the boxcar of train. Homeless and hungry he ventured into this small town. He came down that alley outside and when he looked into the store window, and saw a dollar bill on the cash register. Quietly he slipped into the store and stole the dollar. He came back to this town because he recently had become a Christian. He knew it was wrong to steal that dollar bill and he returned to come pay back with interest and to beg for this person’s forgiveness. When the stranger finished his confession, the old storekeeper began to weep as he said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you please come next door and tell that story to my brother?” With the second telling, the two brothers were reconciled with many hugs and apologies and tears. Twenty years of hurt and broken relationship based not on fact, but on mistrust and misunderstanding. In this story we are witness to healing and reconciliation because of that stranger’s love for Christ.
As followers in Christ, we know that Christ is at work in us so that we can become a part of this new creation that no longer plays games of “I’m better than you,” or “Did so, did not,” “Yes, but,” or “Give me, give me, give me.” God is at work in the power of Jesus to bring all creation together in a new heaven and earth.
Are we tired of being the same old person?
Are we ready for a change?
Christ is always at work in making all things and all people new. In order for this to take place in our lives, we must be renewed daily through repentance and faith. God will always remold and renew us when we turn to him for our guidance, comfort and strength. Only when we become one in Christ are we renewed and ready for this great community of believers. It’s interesting that Paul defined his ministry and ours with a phrase from the world of politics, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2nd Corinthians 5:20) Paul wrote. In Paul’s world this metaphor would be clearly understood as describing the act of representing Christ in the Roman Empire.
For us today, we play the same role, representing Christ in the Kingdom of God. May our actions reflect upon the one to whom we owe our allegiance.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
March 6, 2016