The Sermon for Sunday, June 6th, the First Sunday after Trinity

The Lessons: Psalm 130; Genesis 3:1-21; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18; Mark 3:20-35

The Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18

The Topic: The Perspective of Eternity

INTRODUCTION

The stunning news flew like arrows through the corridors and chambers of the palace: The king was dead. He had been found in his bed, having died a natural death in his sleep.

“Where has he gone?” asked one of the king’s shrewdest advisors.

“Why, to heaven!” replied the others.

“No,” said the one gravely. “I served this king for many years and traveled with him extensively. He loved to travel and would talk about his trips extensively beforehand. Every detail was planned and anticipated. But I have never heard him say a word about traveling to heaven. It was a journey for which I saw no preparation. I am quite sure that he has not gone to heaven.”[1]

Our Second Lesson today teaches the importance of living life from the perspective of eternity, the hope of resurrection to eternal life that we have received by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

One might think that after God’s pronouncement of the judgement of mortality on Adam and Eve (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” – Genesis 3:19c, KJV), man would remain discouraged for his whole life on earth and have no hope. Here is where our Second Lesson is so helpful in countering this perspective. St. Paul gives a few reasons for not fainting or giving up hope. The first is that we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have received mercy (2 Corinthians 4:1). The result of faith in Jesus Christ is that God has shone in our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6b, KJV). The curse of mortality on earth remains, but for the faithful, who have been baptized into union with the Lord Jesus Christ and his death, mortality is now answered by the hope of resurrection in Christ. This great treasure of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we nevertheless have in “earthenware vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7), that is, in our mortal bodies, so that it may be clear that this excellent power is God’s, not our own.

As Christians united with Christ in his death and resurrection, we find that we are carrying the death of the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:10) around (in terms of the opposition of others to our faith), so that the life of Christ may be revealed to others through our faithful witness.

St. Paul’s affirmation that we have the same spirit of faith as is shown in his quotation of Psalm 116:10 (“I believed, therefore I have spoken”) makes all the difference! In Psalm 116, this statement immediately follows an expression of thanksgiving and a statement about the psalmist’s future hope:

For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

 (Psalm 116:8-9, KJV)

These verses testify to the Lord’s deliverance and to the hope of walking before the Lord in the land of the living. St. Paul applies the quotation about believing and therefore speaking to his proclamation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel that brings us the hope of resurrection from death. He proceeds to proclaim the certainty that as God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, so he will raise all the faithful in Christ up from the dead and we shall all be presented to God. Now in this chapter of St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, he is emphasizing the sufferings and trials he has endured on account of his preaching the Gospel to them and to all. All his trials are for the sake of those to whom he preaches, so that the abundant grace of God might overflow through the thanksgiving of many to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:15).

INNER RENEWAL AND THE ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY

Here is the great transformation! St. Paul acknowledges the mortality and frailty of the human body, and its aging process, since he says that our outward man is perishing (2 Corinthians 4:16a), but, at the same time, he proclaims that the inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16b). The spirit of the believer is being renewed in hope and strength by the Holy Spirit every day, though outwardly we grow older. When St. Paul writes like this, he is not pretending that he had no sufferings or trials. He suffered poverty, weakness and sickness, persecutions, whippings, stoning, imprisonments, shipwreck, robbery, the opposition of false teachers, as well as the burden of caring for the churches he had planted. His afflictions were not light in the sense of giving little pain, but he felt the pain keenly. Yet by comparison to “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17b), these afflictions were light.

In the final verse of the Second Lesson, St. Paul gives to Christians an important principle, that of keeping one’s focus not on visible realities, which are temporal, but on invisible realities, which are eternal. The Greek word for “look at” in this verse reminds one of a telescope, useful for observing distant objects. We must look to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the hope of the glory of eternal life with him, instead of being so concerned with life in this world. This means that we will worship God and obey his will rather than our own. Thomas a Kempis remarked that it is vanity to attend only to the present life and not to make provision for the future life; it is vanity to love that which passes away very quickly, and not to hasten to where eternal joy abides (Imitatio Christi, I.i.4).

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, how important are the eternal things for you in your life? Can you say that you view life from the perspective of the eternal priorities to which God has called you?

[1] p.426, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

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