The Eighth Sunday After Epiphany February 27, 2011
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
466, 342, 400, 290
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.
In Christ Jesus, whose Word is absolute truth no matter the time, place, or circumstance, dear fellow Christians:
Can you remember your first few weeks of Sunday school when you were probably four or five years old? It’s an exciting time for a child, especially when the teacher asks a question. It doesn’t take long to catch on that many times the right answer is one word: “Jesus.”
But there is another word which you may have learned to say even before “Jesus.” By my count, we use it more than a dozen times in a typical worship service. It comes at the end of hymns and prayers. We use it as a liturgical response. The word comes directly from the Hebrew. It is “Amen.”
But why use it? Is it for the sake of tradition? Is it a verbal cue telling us that we have come to the end of a part of the service, and it’s time to move on to the next? It’s more than that. “Amen” is really one of the most significant words we use. In the Catechism Martin Luther defines it as: “Yes, it shall be so.” “Amen” is an expression of great confidence, an affirmation that something is an absolute sure thing.
How many sure things do you know of? At one of the recent winter Olympics it seemed as though there was a sure thing. An American snowboarder had a huge lead in her race, and was nearly at the finish line. I’m sure she was already picturing the gold medal around her neck. But then, coming down off a jump, she fell and had to settle for the silver medal. Is your health a sure thing, your job, your pension? There is no guarantee that the sun will even rise tomorrow, or that we will open our eyes to see it.
That leads people to conclude that nothing is certain, and everything is relative. They say, “Question everything, trust no one, and decide for yourself what is true for your particular situation.” The world calls it liberating, but that life-view has frightening consequences. If there is no “sure thing,” no absolute truth, then what can you count on? On what can you build your life It’s like trying to maintain your balance while standing in a rocking rowboat. What can you grab hold of for security in times of trouble? What hope is there for the future? We could not say “Amen” to anything, because we couldn’t be sure of anything. But before we drop “Amen” from our vocabulary, let’s take a closer look at our text.
The Corinthian Christians to whom Paul was writing faced the same kinds of uncertainties as we do. They were exposed to many different religions and philosophies. They had concerns for their families’ safety and questions about how they could make ends meet financially. On top of all that, Paul had told them he was coming for a visit, but then had changed his plans and did not come. His enemies pounced on this as proof that Paul was unreliable, insincere, and that his word could not be trusted. “See,” they said, “one minute he says, ‘Yes,’ and the next, ‘No,’” Their goal was to undermine Paul’s preaching that forgiveness and eternal life come through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works of the Law.
Paul’s defense was powerful and direct. He reminded the Corinthians that the message he preached was not his own word. It was God’s and God is faithful. His Word is always a sure thing. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Deuteronomy 23:19 NIV). What God promises, He does!
More than that, all of God’s promises in connection with Jesus are positive ones: “Yes,” rather than “No.” After man’s sin in the Garden of Eden, God could have pronounced a thunderous, damning “No!” on Adam and Eve and upon all their descendants. Instead, He promised a Savior who would crush the serpent’s head. When the nation of Israel was unfaithful and turned to the worship of idols, God could have told them, “No! There is no more mercy, no more hope!” Instead, He promised a new covenant based on His love and forgiveness.
We too fall under the condemnation of the law. All we like sheep have gone astray. There is no one good enough for God. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. How many times have you promised the Lord one thing, and then gone out and done the opposite? He could say, “Why should I keep My word to you when you don’t keep your word to Me?” Yet God’s faithfulness is not dependent on ours. God’s answer in Christ is always “Yes!” No matter what the sin or who the sinner, God’s answer is “Yes, come to Me, and I will receive you. Yes, come to Me, and I will unburden you. Yes, come to Me, and I will give you the certainty of eternal life.”
God can tell sinners, “Yes,” because He spoke His “No” to Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus pleaded, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from Me.” The answer was “No.” It was the Father’s will that Jesus drink that cup down to the last bitter, poisonous drop! On the cross during the hours of darkness, the Father’s word to Jesus was “No.” He would have nothing to do with Jesus. He forsook His Son in punishment for our sins. But then came the glorious “YES!” of the resurrection, and Jesus’ Word to us: “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19).
That was the message from God preached by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Every faithful servant of the Lord still preaches it. Those servants will not always be able to carry out everything they themselves say and plan, but that does not alter the certainty of God and His Word in the least. God remains faithful!
From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is filled with promises of God. They are all “Yes” in Jesus. On the salvation checklist everything is taken care of, from Jesus’ perfect keeping of the Law as our substitute to His sacrificial death as the Lamb of God. What better response can there be than “Amen!” Let it ring out, because it is a sure thing. Shout it out, for it is for all people of all time!
Still, it’s one thing to hear God say salvation is a sure thing in Christ, and something else to say with conviction of heart, “I am certain that Jesus is my Savior, and that I do have eternal life.” A young man in an adult information class once told me, “I wish I could be as sure as you are.” There have been many times when I have had that same wish for myself after witnessing the faith of another believer. We know that God says His Word is a sure thing and yet our faith is weak. Each of us still has an Old Adam who is never going to believe so doubts and fears come at times. We can relate to the distraught father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing and then prayed for himself: “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
God hears these prayers too, and His answer is a positive “Yes!” God not only has accomplished our salvation, He works in us the confidence to believe that it is a sure thing. He does it through the blessing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can be sure because, first of all, the Spirit has anointed us.
In the Old Testament God had prophets, priests, and kings anointed with olive oil to show that He had set them apart for a holy purpose. The Spirit anointed us with the water of baptism, and set us apart as God’s holy people, a royal priesthood. Your baptism is a daily assurance that you are a child of God, and therefore a beneficiary of all His promises.
The Spirit has united us with one another and all other believers in the Holy Christian Church. To gather together to grow in the Word and to worship the Lord is a great spiritual confidence builder. We have been sealed by the Spirit. When Jesus was buried, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate secured the tomb by putting his seal on the stone. It warned everyone who saw it not to tamper with the grave because it was under the protection of the government. Likewise, we have received God’s seal. It is an inner mark which assures us we belong to God and, therefore, are under His protection. It tells the Devil, the world, and our flesh, “Hands off!”
We can be confident our salvation is a sure thing because the Holy Spirit is a guarantee from God. Actually, the Greek word means a pledge or down payment. You put $1,000 down on a car as a sign of good faith which assures the seller that you will make payment in full at a future time. The Holy Spirit and His blessings are the down payment which guarantees to us the full joys of eternal life to come. Paul told the Corinthians: “God has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident…We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:5ff. NIV). That confidence is the essence of faith. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). Faith shouts the “Amen” to God’s promises.
We don’t have to just wish for that confidence. God wants you to have it. The Spirit gives it to us through the Word. When you lack that sureness, ask the Spirit for help. Dig into the Word more than ever. Look for God’s promises. Write them down. Remember them. Come to the Sacrament of the Altar, eat and drink the bread and wine and along with them receive Jesus’ body and blood. Remember His promise: “This is My body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” God’s promises have the power to convince us of their certainty and to overcome our doubts.
Let God give you the confidence to live an “Amen” life. Knowing that all of God’s promises are an unqualified “Yes” in Jesus, you have a sure thing no matter what the situation. You can be sure of who you are for God says, “Yes, you are my beloved child, holy in my sight through Jesus.” You can be sure of why you are here on earth. You have been set apart to proclaim God’s praises wherever you are and in whatever you do. You can be sure of your security no matter what unforeseen events take place because you have the promise: “Seek first His kingdom, and everything else will be taken care of too” (cf. Matthew 6:33). You can be the most confident person on earth because you know exactly where you are going. Your bags are packed and your reservation guaranteed. God is faithful. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
In the course of an ordinary day, do you ever say to yourself, “Amen!” in response to God’s Word or working in your life? When we get up in the morning we know what the day is: a gift of God’s grace for us to use and enjoy. There’s no question about it. Say, “Amen!” When we receive God’s blessings both earthly and spiritual, we can remember the love of the Giver and say, “Amen!” When we sin and come to God in repentance, we can look to the cross and empty tomb, and then shout a grateful “Amen!” for our forgiveness is a sure thing!
Among all the political and personal uncertainties of this life, there is nothing better than a sure thing. There is nothing more sure than God’s “Yes” in Jesus, and nothing more convincing than the Spirit’s seal and pledge in us. What more is there to say than “Amen!” Let it ring out this week! 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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.