The 14th Sunday After Trinity September 21, 2003
2 Corinthians 1:3-11
2 Corinthians 3:1-6
4, 62, 531, 46
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.
In the name of Jesus in whom alone we find true rest and relief, dear fellow redeemed:
Several years ago I had my wisdom teeth removed. The removal of three out of the four teeth was no problem. In one spot, however, there developed what is called a “dry socket.” For two days it was rather painful every time that I took a breath. Going outside in the cold seemed almost unbearable. When I saw the dentist again he put a couple drops of medicine on the spot and there was instant sweet relief.
I’m sure you can all relate to this experience whether it is a time that an aspirin begins to work, or having a sliver removed, or getting a drink on a hot summer’s day. The greater the affliction is, the greater the joy is when we have relief and comfort. Comfort is the predominant theme in our text. Take another look at the text and note the number of times that either “comfort” or “consolation” (the same word in the original language) appear.
It has been said that the job of a preacher is to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. There’s some truth to that and we could expand it to say that all Christians have that role in using the Law and the Gospel. Today we concentrate on the latter, that is, comforting the afflicted. We learn from the Word of God before us that GOD GIVES COMFORT TO THE AFFLICTED. This I. Comfort comes through Jesus who delivers us from death, and this II. Comfort comes from your fellow Christians with whom we share both in tribulation and with joy.
In this life there are all sorts of tribulations that afflict us. The word tribulation has the idea of being caught in a vise—being pressed hard on every side. There are many times and many circumstances in which we feel pressure upon us and may feel that there is no way of escape.
In reading through the book of Acts we see pressure on Paul and his companions—Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. Their lives were threatened on many occasions. In verse nine of the text, Paul comments, “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves.” Paul may well have been referring to an occasion in Ephesus when there was a mob scene and a riot in which the animosity was directed toward them. That must have indeed been a frightening time as it seemed inevitable that this mob was going to tear them to pieces. Such a death sentence would be perhaps the greatest tribulation that one could face. As another example, inmates on death row sleep 16 hours a day in come cases. This is not because they are physically worn out. Rather, they are isolated from the rest of the prisoners and many do not know how to handle the prospect of impending death.
Every person born into this world has a death sentence. Because of the sin of Adam we are born with death hanging over us. We come into this world physically alive, but spiritually dead. We have no spiritual pulse, no relationship with God. Physical death will also come. Because of inherited sin we are born to die. Eternal death also awaits those who leave this earth while spiritually dead. In one way or another, each one of us is facing a death sentence.
The difference is Jesus “who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us” [v.10] He did rescue Paul and his companions in Ephesus, but in a greater deliverance He saved them and us from spiritual death and eternal death. Death is the greatest tribulation that we face. Deliverance from death is the greatest comfort we receive.
Through His death, Jesus removed the cause of death, our sin, from us. Your sin was placed upon your Savior, and was removed from you forever. Instead of a death sentence, you now have life with your God to which you look forward. Yes, physical death remains, but instead of being a gateway to hell it is now the gateway to heaven. Physical death is a release from this corruptible body to one that is incorruptible and perfect. Deliverance from death in all of its viciousness and all of its forms is the greatest comfort that our God speaks to us. It’s more than getting back to normal. It goes beyond that and into heavenly bliss and joy.
The Lord has revealed this to you through His Word, and in the coming of His Son Jesus. We sang an advent hymn previous to the sermon, which may seem out of place in the summer Trinity season, but it speaks of the comfort that was promised to the people through the coming Savior. That comfort will be brought permanently in the second coming of Christ. That will be the final deliverance.
As we read in verse 3, “[God the] Father of mercies and God of all comfort…comforts us in all our tribulation.” Since Jesus has delivered us from death itself, He will continue to deliver us from the smaller problems that we encounter in this world. In the middle of tribulation it may be difficult to believe that we will truly find comfort, but Jesus who gave His life for you will comfort you in all tribulation great or small.
Holy Communion is a comfort because it is a blessed, personal reminder of the removal of our death sentence. As we partake of the Lord’s body and blood, you are receiving the great comfort that though you’ll be dogged by tribulation in this life you have a Savior who loves you so much that He sacrificed Himself to deliver you from death and still gives comfort in affliction to this very day. Scripture also gives this comfort through the words and promises of God.
Beside the “vertical” comfort from our Lord, we also have “horizontal” comfort through one another. One of the avenues that God uses to help us is our fellow Christians. We are comforted “that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” [v.4] If you have found relief from a problem it would be greedy and selfish to keep that all to yourself. That would be like seeing somebody with a terrible headache, but not sharing your aspirin. Not offering the comfort of our Savior is even worse because unlike medicine there is a limitless supply of comfort from our Lord to dispense.
Paul suffered tremendously for the name of Christ, but God gave him the strength to make it through the suffering. Now, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians who were going through similar trials, he used what he had learned to help them. He freely gave what he had received from the Lord.
So it is also with you. If one of you has gone through surgery, or an illness, or the death of a loved one, you may be able to relate to someone else going through a similar ordeal. Even if you don’t have much to say you can listen. Even if you haven’t gone through a similar situation you can use the Word of God which is the best comfort we can give.
Your sufferings and the comfort you have received through them are not just for yourself and your benefit. They may also be to the benefit of others. God has brought other people into your life that you may be a comfort to them.
Don’t forget the power of prayer as well. “You also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” [v.11] We read reports from our foreign missionary and the Board of Missions and learn about the work in America and overseas. How many needs and how many people there are for which to pray! Such prayers are effective.
As you become aware of needs and afflictions take these matters to the throne of grace. When you or I say, “I’ll pray for you,” this is not a throw-away line, but a precious act of going to the One who can help the most. Even if there are other things that you cannot do, every single one of you can pray. That is a great gift we can use not only for ourselves, but also on behalf of others in order to bring comfort to the afflicted.
Even though we speak of our relationship with one another as horizontal, ultimately we want to direct people vertically to the Lord Himself. This is where people will find true and lasting comfort. Without God in the picture our brand of comfort would be like handing a Band-Aid to somebody who has been shot. The Lord has the answers.
You or another person may be afflicted for the express purpose that you would remember God. In verse 11, we read that the sentence of death was there, “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” If we would have smooth sailing all the time there is no doubt that most, if not all, of us would fall away from God, or, at the very least, not see the great need for Him. God wants our trust zoomed-in on Him because only in Him is there life. There is a saying, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” When we’re down we have a greater chance of looking to God for help and He will be there to dispense comfort just as we need it.
There will be times when you will be in a position to give out comfort and times when you need it yourself. No man is an island. We need each other, so be willing to both give and receive the comfort that God provides through one another.
We will not always find the type of comfort we ourselves envision. In this matter, we rely on God’s heavenly wisdom and the long-term view of salvation. When I go to visit someone that is sick, I cannot give them the comfort of a guaranteed cure. Instead, I give them the comfort that their Lord is with them, that they are redeemed children of God, and that their sins have been washed away. After all, when the paralyzed man was lowered down through the roof, the very first thing that Jesus told him was that his sins were forgiven (cf. Matthew 9:2). Let us give people that comfort first and foremost. Unlike medicine which wears off and cannot fend off illness forever, the comfort of forgiveness is permanent.
Let us also take opportunity to give people comfort in other ways as well. Whether it is talking, listening, praying, preparing a meal, or helping with chores, or whatever the case may be, there are limitless opportunities to comfort one another. God grant you comfort in your affliction through Jesus, and through one another. 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.