Sermon – Lent 4 – March 31, 2019
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ‘Compelling Love’
CT: The ability and power to see other people, especially fellow Christians, as God sees us is His love for us in Christ Jesus. This is God’s motive at work in us.
Intro: In C. S. Lewis’ book, ‘the Screwtape Letters’, a demon named Wormwood reported to his supervisor that his work to keep a person from believing is Jesus Christ is in danger because he is now attending church! But Screwtape told Wormwood that all is not lost because Satan knows how to use the visible church; it’s full of people—sinners. “All it takes is that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, have a double chin, a squeaky boot, or some odd clothes. He has in mind what a Christian ought to look like, being spiritual people and all, and he’ll have trouble making what he sees fit.”
Our Sight: So what do you see in the people around you; any black sheep; people who you thought would bring the roof down? Does another person’s presence, appearance, or actions ever keep you from focusing on worship? (“Hmmm…I wonder what they’re doing here?”) Do you see the ‘new creation’ Paul wrote about or is your vision clouded by what you know about your neighbour?
But Paul wrote that he and other believers now saw their fellow members of Christ’s Body in a new way, and indeed all people. He no longer regards anyone according to the flesh—that is by their outward appearance or their sinful words and actions. He no longer valued them by their status in society, their education, their race, gender, age, or their dress, but rather now looked at them through the lens of God’s grace. Indeed Paul—at one time Saul—regarded Jesus as just a man; a man he rejected, hated, and fiercely opposed to the point of killing anybody who followed Him. Jesus threatened Saul’s self-made god of his own goodness; his own ability to earn God’s favour. The life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus say that we cannot earn our place in God’s favour. In fact it says we are helpless in our sins to do so. Our pride, our lack of humility, our seeing ourselves as better than others is what the enemy uses so well against us. Screwtape told Wormwood to keep the man’s mind hazy about church; don’t let him really understand it, “then you’ll have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.”
Therefore: But Paul has a reason for the way he views other people, especially people like you and me. It’s in the little word we often miss. Our text starts with ‘therefore’ and therefore is there for a reason. Paul’s words today hinge on the previous verses: “For the love of Christ controls us.” Or in other words, “the love of Christ keeps us from falling apart at the seams; it restrains us; it exercises continuous control over us!”
There used to be a TV show about a couple of detectives who meticulously scoured murder cases to uncover the motive. Discover the motive and find the murderer. Paul is talking about God’s motive at work for us and in us; it’s called love. But not some sappy Harlequin Romance novel love or lusting after worldly goods, or wandering emotions over a short skirt or some tight blue jeans; Paul is specific. “One has died for all, therefore all have died, and He died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” It’s that God so loved the world—and that includes you and me! This love of Christ reaches beyond all who we are, where we’ve been, and what we’ve done. Like the prodigal son, none of our excuses hold water; what matters is the Father’s love that never ceases from longing to see us, hold us, and welcome us into His home. And like the older son, all that the Father has is already ours; His outrageous love continues to embrace us that none should be left out.
New Creation: So incredible is this Good News that Paul can unequivocally say that if anyone is “in Christ” (and remember you were baptized into Christ!), God has moved them into an entire new sphere of being, recreated as a person of faith in Jesus Christ who desires to live in and for Him alone. “He is a new creation!” Never mind the flesh and all the problems we still carry because of our sinful nature. “The old has passed away; behold the new has come!” so that even our body of flesh is now under Christ’s lordship. It’s as Martin Luther wrote about Psalm 73, there are only two options as to who is riding our natural beastly will. It’s either the devil or Christ; we are not as in control as we’d like to think we are. That our will is free to choose God is a lie the devil has used well in Christendom to plant his seeds of doubt. Jesus said, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That’s not a free will at all, and it includes all of us. “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36) You are a new creation by God’s work and design despite what we see. Faith sees believers in a new light as we now see Jesus as our Saviour and not as unbelievers see Him; someone to be despised and destroyed.
God’s Reconciliation: And in case we don’t get it, Paul wrote, “all of this is from God.” Through Jesus, God reconciled us to Himself. This is His work of love. Think again of the father, longing, watching, waiting for his son and then running out to embrace him while he was still a long way off. Our heavenly Father has reconciled all people to Himself in this one moment of history; the suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son. Jesus bore all your sin; it is no longer counted against you. We now have the assurance that nothing can separate us from this love—this is the power of Jesus’ forgiving, redeeming, reconciling work on the cross!
We call this message the Gospel, the Good News, and God has entrusted it to you; God making His appeal to the world through you. The Gospel has been embodied in you. In my flesh with all of my sins and weaknesses and failures there is a new creation; I’ve been redeemed by Christ the crucified. And so have you! The forgiveness we have received; the grace we daily live under speaks directly to the love of the one who sends us as a living message. It’s not that you and I are perfect halo bearing saints; it’s that we are forgiven sinners bearing witness to the love that has taken hold of us and will not let us go.