2nd Sunday After Pentecost June 18, 2017
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
536:1-4, 777 (alt. 396), 425:1-2&5-6, 536:5-6
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
God grant to each of you the eyes of faith, enabling you to see what could otherwise not be seen. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
It is absolutely amazing how often we don’t “see” what we are seeing. Physically speaking, studies have shown that women are better than men at picking out an item in a messy drawer or on a cluttered desk. It’s right there, but men especially can’t see it.
Studies have also shown that a sizeable majority of people miss even dramatic changes that happen right in front of them if they are not particularly interested in the object that changes or, more importantly, if they are focused on or preoccupied with something else.
Christians need to learn from this, since Satan undoubtedly knows all about it. We live in a world where something is always vying for our attention. The devil certainly knows our human limitations, and that if we are focused on the trivial we will miss the important things in life. To narrow it down even further, he knows that if we are constantly focused on the material, we will most often miss the spiritual. Our society—like no other in the history of the human race—has been filled with so many eye-catching distractions that we have more or less “missed” historically unprecedented changes—like gay marriage, casual sex, and rampant atheism. Yet this is cause, not effect. Whenever human beings try to pack more into a finite, limited amount of time, the first thing to get bumped out the back door tends to be “the one thing needful.” Without that constant guide in our lives, we can expect to “miss” more and more of what is happening right in front of our eyes.
There is, however, a work-around. Those who must observe for a living (security personnel, spies, law enforcement, etc.) can be trained to see what is actually happening—to ignore distractions and focus on what is truly important. As Christians, we need the same sort of training. Our text for this morning offers just that. It seeks to train us to learn to see what is actually there, even when the eyes of most deceive them on a regular basis.
Our text for this morning is found in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the Fourth Chapter:
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (ESV)
So far the very words of God. These are God’s words, and they are therefore altogether true and right in every way. Resolve then to meditate on them- to focus on them—accordingly. To prepare our hearts for such appropriate and beneficial activities, so we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
Christians study God’s Word because there God has promised to meet with us and to speak to us. There God does speak to us. Not in some strange, whisper in your ear sort of way, but in a way that is nonetheless real. He speaks to us in a way that you have to experience to understand. Like exercise and eating a healthy diet, you don’t always notice the benefits right away, which means that lazy part in all of us will constantly lobby for us to quit the work because the benefit is negligible, at best. The reality is that sooner, rather than later, you begin to recognize the obvious benefits. You gain tangible blessings like strength, confidence, wisdom, and insight. That added strength and wisdom, in turn, enables you to recognize and withstand the devil’s favorite tools—like temptation, doubt, and apathy. You find it easier to forgive, easier to talk about your faith with others and, more to the point this morning, easier to maintain your focus and see past the distractions.
Can Christians survive without regular exposure to God’s Word? Maybe. Is that really a chance you want to take? “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
What’s more, Scripture never gets old. Scripture applies to life. As life changes, so do the lessons and applications of God’s Word. No matter how many times you read a part of God’s Word, that Word continually addresses the changing circumstances of your life. You can read a section of God’s Word that you’ve read dozens of times before but for some reason this time God’s message to you makes it through that thick layer of dull that always before seemed to cloud your vision or understanding.
Take this morning’s text. Did you notice a rather startling re-defining of what life on earth is really all about, and how our God really is supposed to be the center, the core, of our entire existence? Did you catch that section in our text?
By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians he had been around the block a few times. In fact the temptation to regard all of the headwinds that he encountered as signs from God telling him to quit would have been powerful to the point of overwhelming. Listen again how, seven chapters later in this same letter, Paul summarized some of the adversity that he had been called upon to endure and overcome. There he spoke of “…far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)
Wouldn’t you think it would have been incredibly tempting for Paul to regard these things as signs from God that he should quit? Wouldn’t it have been tremendously appealing to reason that an all-powerful God could and would protect him from such things if that God really wanted Paul to go on doing what he was doing? Paul had only one reason to go on doing what he was doing, which he listed in our text for this morning. Again, did you catch it? If you missed it, don’t. It’s critical, monumental, life-changing: “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
“It’s all about God” is infinitely more than just a slogan. It articulates an insight that, once realized and accepted, will change the way you see life. Even in the saving of souls, the ultimate focus was and is not the individual sinner but the God that saved them. Every time a sinner is brought to saving faith, that sinner, for the first time, is capable of offering genuine thanksgiving, honor, and praise to God. The greater the number of converts, the greater the thanksgiving. The more God’s children offer their thanksgiving, the more God is glorified.
What a razor sharp contrast between such divine wisdom and the humanist’s notion that “man is the measure of all things” and that therefore “it’s all about me.”
Don’t misunderstand. Man obviously benefits immeasurably when he is brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ. The moment God the Holy Spirit causes a sinner to trust in the goodness of Jesus Christ for his salvation—rather than his own works or his own “goodness”—from that moment, a human soul not only escapes the unimaginable eternal torment of hell, he inherits the eternal bliss of heaven. Paul referred to this very thing in our text: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” But even then it’s still not all about you or me. It’s still all about increased thanksgiving for our God and the increase of his glory.
The World will never get it. They are too self-absorbed; too important in their own eyes. They will never see things as we do—which brings us to the other amazing part of this morning’s text. The Holy Spirit’s encourages us to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”
Stop for a moment and consider what we have just been told to do. We have been told to look to what cannot be seen. On the face of it those words sound nonsensical—to look to what you cannot see. Yet, once we really get what God is telling us it makes all the sense in the world, but only to those whose eyes have actually been educated to see that which remains unseen to the unbelieving world.
For Paul to continue to preach Christ crucified in the face of incredible hardship and persecution—for that matter for anyone at all to remain Christian in the hostile environment that is planet earth—for that to happen Paul had to be rock solid sure that the opposition he was facing was of Satan and not of God. That sort of confidence and certainty can only be the result of a rock-solid belief in the unseen reality of the message he was proclaiming—that a human being can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, if there really are countless paths to heaven, then only a fool would subject himself to persecution and ridicule. Anyone with basic common sense would opt always and only for the path of least resistance. Today that path of least resistance is parroting the nonsense that one religion is as good as any other. The path of least resistance is to approve of everything and condemn nothing. “I’m ok, you’re ok.” “Live and let live.” Don’t judge.” “Don’t condemn.”
What’s so bad about that? It sounds… nice. It’s bad because Scripture says it’s bad. Imagine you have a house full of dinner guests and your house starts on fire. How “nice” or how loving would it be to tell your guests to go through any door they choose when only one leads to safety and life? So also God’s Word teaches us that there is only one way for man to be saved, which is to trust not in ourselves and our own goodness, but in the payment Jesus made for us—which alone can and has removed our sin.
By definition, Christians have been given the ability to see the unseen; to recognize and accept as true that which cannot be verified by human sight. It is the ability to know God’s love even when suffering terrible loss or pain. It is the ability to deny the impulses and desires of your flesh because you know that the God that created and saved you is not pleased by such things. It is the divine gift to recognize that everything that you see here is temporary, and that it will one day simply disappear. Again from our text: “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Understand that man has no real excuse here. There are countless things in our lives that are unseen, yet the Godless nonetheless believe them without question. No one here has seen electricity, but we believe it exists because we have seen its power. No one has seen love, but, again, we believe it is real because we have felt its power and witnessed its effect. How much more then when we deal with heavenly, spiritual matters? Watch a child being baptized in the name of the Triune God and Christians see a miracle of rebirth. The world sees only water being poured on a baby’s head. Go to the Lord’s Table and you recognize that you receive Christ’s true body and blood. The world sees only bread and wine. This sort of miraculous unseen truth is all around us every day. If we but learn to look with educated eyes we see the Holy Spirit that is here with us and here within us. We see the angels that continually minister to our God by serving us, his children. We see the God to whom we pray, and ourselves as those who have been washed clean of all sin by the sacrificial sin-payment made by Jesus Christ. All of these things are unseen, and yet all are very real.
To the world: delusional. To the child of God: truth and light—reality of the absolute highest order. May God so bless each one of us with educated eyes, that all of us may continue to see and believe the reality of life as God himself has revealed it to us. 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 (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.