Pentecost June 8, 2003
2 Corinthians 1:18-24
224, 227, 370, 231
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Revel, dear Christian, in the certain knowledge that your sins are forgiven and that heaven’s door stands open waiting for you to enter the Paradise that has been won and prepared for you by Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The word is beyond sure. Even beyond certain. You’ve known this ever since you were a little child. You learned it from the progression of the questions you were asked: “Are you sure? Are you certain? Are you positive…that the fish you almost caught was at least 17½ feet long?” It was one thing to be sure, another to be certain, but if you were positive, then there was just no doubt.
Positive, however, seems to be a bit hard to come by in a less than certain world, especially when it comes to the future. Stop for just a moment and try to list even a half dozen future events about which you can be absolutely positive. The fact is you probably can’t, not in a world where even tomorrow’s sunrise is not guaranteed.
It is in this light that the world views Christianity and the promises contained therein. Unfortunately, it is often in this same light that Christians view those same promises. Let it not be so among us! Today, we will be reminded to look not only at what we have, but also at what we have been promised. When the Lord God himself promises, that is the time to be positive! The text that will guide and instruct us is found in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the First Chapter:
But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us; by me, Silvanus, and Timothy; was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.
These are God’s words. In humble thanksgiving, and desiring to be filled and instructed by these words we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
We learned as children and often reminded that we can break the 8th Commandment even by telling the truth. How so? Whenever we speak the truth with evil intentions we are acting contrary to the will of our God. It, therefore, ought not surprise us that we can fail in our calling as Christian witnesses even though we never speak something that is untrue. Again, how so? By dwelling on negative truth.
Let me use an example that every parent will readily understand. Parents recognize what very few children do: Bad stuff happens. Children are invincible in their own minds. Parents know from experience that invincibility simply does not exist. With this understanding, parents have some tough choices to make. Think about how many dangers we see for our children and how we often warn our children against them. Every parent can sympathize with the overprotective moms and dads out there. A parent’s natural love for his child makes every parent want to shelter his child from as much pain and danger as possible. The problem is knowing how much is too much. Overprotection can easily lead to paranoid and fearful children, but a failure to warn can lead to disaster.
The same sorts of problems confront pastors and teachers of the Word of God. Individual Christians often seem to carry about the same illusion of invulnerability, but in the spiritual realm. The temptation for those entrusted with the spiritual care of souls is (much like the overprotective parent) to identify every possible danger and protect those who are dear to him from that danger. The result is that we become so concerned with what might happen (maybe obsessed is more accurate) that we lose sight of what has happened and what our Lord has promised will happen to every single child of God.
This is the general area to which our text carries us this morning—the delicate balance between confidence and overconfidence, and the tragic difference between dead sure and just plain dead.
One of the greatest failures of the Christian Church down through the ages is that we have failed to communicate to the world around us that ours is a religion that is, above all else, positive in both character and promise. We have left the world with the appalling misconception that Christianity is a dour, forbidding, and gloomy religion, a religion of “No!” and “Don’t” rather than “Yes!” and “Done!”
Our text makes short work of any such misconception. Just listen to the tone of Paul’s inspired words: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us… was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” [vv.19-20] You have to work pretty hard to get “dour” or “forbidding” or “gloomy” out of these words, don’t you? What is it, after all, that these words are telling us? They certainly are not picturing Christianity in any sort of negative light are they? Far from it! These words breathe of joyful assurance and confidence concerning that which is and that which is to come. Why such confidence and assurance? Because these promises are all based on Jesus Christ—the one man who never fails!
The work of Jesus Christ is the single most positive thing to ever happen to sinful mankind. Positive because, by His own words, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Positive because even now Jesus does not make demands on us. He makes offers and He makes promises. It was Moses that came with demands and threats. Moses brought the Law. Jesus came with a different message. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
What does this mean that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”? It certainly does not mean that there was no truth in the Law. The Law, however, was certainly not gracious. Grace, remember, is defined as “God’s undeserved love for sinners.” There was no give to the law, no room whatsoever for error. The Holy Spirit through James said of the Law: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Think for a moment of the enormity of those words! Imagine living from birth until the moment of your death and never once sinning—not once. Then, on your deathbed, one sinful thought flickers across your mind. At that moment you become guilty of all sins. In that instant you are a murderer, thief, liar, child abuser, and idolater. That is what it means when we say that there was no give to the Law, no room for error. To sin, even once, was to die. This is the message Moses brought.
What about Jesus? What message did He bring? Our text tells us: “…not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen.” [vv. 19-20] Our text tells us that Jesus carried no threats, no requirements, no demands. He came to do for us what we would not and could not do for ourselves, namely, keep perfectly the very Law that demanded perfection from each one of us. Jesus kept that Law perfectly every moment of His life on earth, and then He took the sum total of all of mankind’s sins upon His innocent shoulders. On the cross He paid for every last one of them. That is what He announced when from that cross He said, simply enough, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
Dear Christians that is our religion. Is there any “no” in anything you see there? Is there any negativity of any kind? Is there any doubt or uncertainty? Any gloom or despair? None whatsoever! Jesus left nothing undone. The battle in no way remains uncertain. It has been fought and it has already been won for us.
Ah, but in sneaks the Devil, whispering in our ear as he loves to do: “Yes, Jesus may have won, but will you? Can you, a sinner, really have any confidence about your eternal future? Don’t you know others who once believed as you do, only to fall away later in life? What makes you think you will be any different? How can you possibly have any confidence, any certainty that you will not turn away in the end and die in unbelief?”
Do you not think, dear child of God, that your Lord Jesus did not also recognize that each one of us is just as incapable of keeping ourselves in the faith as we were in bringing ourselves to faith in the first place? True, we were spiritually dead then and we now dead no longer, but the psalmist assures us, “As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). The same Father who loved us enough to send His Son to die for us would never forsake His children. We have been reconciled to Him. Our text offers us only comfort and assurance. There we read, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” [vv. 21-22]
This passage brings us to the great event we celebrate this week—Pentecost. Pentecost was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in full measure upon God’s New Testament Church. Surely the Holy Spirit was also at work in the Old Testament, but at Pentecost His presence flooded the Christ’s Church. The Holy Spirit was given to us for many reasons. We focus on one in particular reason—the one revealed in our text. The Holy Spirit was sent into our hearts as a seal or guarantee of the great things God has done for us. “By faith we stand,” the text assures us [v.24], and by the Holy Spirit we are preserved.
A loving Savior would never die for us only to abandon us. His plan from the very start was to send the blessed Comforter into our hearts. This He has done. It is now the Holy Spirit who sustains and preserves us. We could be in no better hands.
While it is true that we still have our Old Adam with us and, therefore, possess the frightening power to drive the Holy Spirit from our hearts, we have not been called to such doubts and fears. We have won and the Holy Spirit will continue to protect and preserve us through the means He has established for this very purpose—the Gospel (in Word and in Sacrament). Feast on that Gospel message, dear Christians. Wrap yourselves in the Word, for it is the Bread of Life. In Christ Jesus we can be positive and that is the message we want to share with the world. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.