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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

The Cross Before The Crown

12/23 The Cross Before The Crown; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181223_cross-before-crown.mp3

Christmas is a time to focus our attention on Jesus, who Jesus is, what he came to do. We looked at his eternal identity, the Son before the manger, we looked at his aim, to overcome the darkness in us with the light of his presence, that this was his plan before creation, to enter in to our mess and rescue us, that it was his eternal purpose to put on display the glory of his grace. Today I want to look again at who Jesus is, what he is really like, and how his rescue of us must happen.

The Image of Jesus

Who is Jesus? What is the mental image you have of Jesus? When you think of Jesus, how do you picture him? How do you imagine him?

Do you think of the baby in the manger? Do you think of a 30 something Caucasian with a slight build, long blond hair and piercing blue eyes? An olive skinned Hebrew with a robe and tassels? Some composite of the artwork and movies you’ve seen?

Did you know we have a visual description of what Jesus looks like in the bible? Let me read this description of one who saw the risen and glorified Lord Jesus. If you like, you can close your eyes and imagine.

Revelation 1:10 …I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet …12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

I dare say if we were to meet the risen Lord today, we too would fall at his feet as though dead. That description is from Revelation 1. There is another description in Revelation 19.

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Why don’t we think of Jesus this way? Except for one or two brief episodes (his transfiguration, and possibly at his arrest, when the armed mob drew back at his word and fell to the ground – Jn.18:3-6), Jesus did not look like this during his time here on earth. Of course these visions are highly symbolic, not necessarily meant to be taken as literal physical descriptions.

But even more important than what he looked like, he didn’t act like that during his time on earth. He didn’t come with sword and scepter, striking down his enemies, trampling them underfoot. But he will, when he comes again. Advent means coming. And advent is a time to look back at his coming, as well as forward to his second coming.

The Cross Before The Crown

We see both of these aspects of who Jesus is in Philippians 2. Philippians 2 is a call to love and unity, to put aside selfishness and pride, in humility to count others as more significant than yourselves.

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus, being himself fully God, did not cling to his divine privileges. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. God humbled himself. He took the form of a servant; he was born into humanity. The Creator of all things became a part of his creation. He humbled himself even to the extreme of a humiliating death.

Verses 9-11 give us the rest of the story. God intended, as a result of his humiliation, to highly exalt Jesus.

Philippians 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Humility and then glory. In that order. You see the ‘therefore’ at the beginning of verse 9? The Father exalted the Son as a result of his humiliation, his obedience even to the extreme of the cross.

We have to be careful not to misunderstand. It is not as if Jesus earned something that he did not before possess. He always was exalted; he did not need to be exalted. Verse 6 excludes the possibility of understanding this in a way that Jesus was somehow less and became great. It says that he existed in the very form or nature of God. His equality with God was not something he had to chase after. But having humbled himself, there was room for him to be exalted, lifted up to where he had come down from, restored to his rightful place.

What he has now that he did not before, is a human nature. At the incarnation, ‘remaining what he was,’ God from all eternity, ‘he became what he was not,’ truly human. He took a human nature, and he retains that nature for eternity. Jesus will be God incarnate forever. He now is seated at the right hand of his Father, a man; the God-man. Our advocate. Our brother.

And he now bears the title ‘Savior.’ From before time, before creation, he planned to rescue his fallen creation. But he had not yet carried it out in time. He was always full of mercy and grace, eager to forgive; that is his heart. But that is now seen, put on display because of his humiliation and crucifixion. The riches of his grace toward his enemies are now put on public display in the humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus.

The cross came before the crown. Humiliation before exaltation. “Therefore God has highly exalted him.”

Temptation to Reverse

We see in the temptation of Jesus, Satan’s attempt to reverse that order.

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Use your power as the Creator to provide for your own needs. Put your own needs above the needs of others.

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus would live in dependence on God, putting the needs of others above his own.

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Use your privileged position and promise of divine protection to demonstrate to all who you are. Gain followers by a spectacular show of glory.

Matthew 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus would wait for the perfect timing of the Father. He would not step out on his own, seek his own glory, or force his hand.

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Here is an opportunity to avoid the horrors of the cross. Just a simple act of worship and I will freely sign over what you know will cost your own blood to secure. Every knee will bow to you, if you will only bow your knee to me, do it my way. Does your Father really know best? Does he really love you if he sent you here to die?

Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Jesus was sure of his Father’s love and his Father’s wisdom. He would not be fooled as Adam was, questioning the Father’s goodness, questioning his wisdom or his ways. Jesus knew that humility was the only true path to glory.

The Annunciation

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary

Luke 1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But it was Simeon at the temple who said

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Jesus will reign. He will sit on the throne of David forever. But he must suffer first. He will be opposed. The cross before the crown.

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

We see this foreshadowed in the gifts of the Magi. Gold and frankincense and myrrh. All three were very valuable and used in trade. Gold is associated with wealth, royalty, and most notably the presence of God. Idols were often made of gold, and the most holy place, the place where God made his presence known, was entirely covered with gold. Frankincense is associated with the temple, used in the holy incense, burned with the grain offerings to create a pleasing aroma, and placed with the bread of the presence. Myrrh was also used in the temple service, in the holy anointing oil. It was also associated with passion and intimacy. Wine mixed with myrrh was offered to Jesus on the cross, but he refused it. Nicodemus used about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (Jn.19:39).

Economically these gifts would have provided the resources necessary for this poor couple to flee to Egypt and live there to escape the wrath of Herod ignited by the visit of the Magi, but it would be hard to miss the significance of the royal gift of gold that reminded of God’s presence with us, the priestly gift of frankincense that pointed to a sacrifice as a pleasing aroma to the Lord, and the myrrh as a preparation for burial. Jesus will reign, but he must offer himself, suffer and die first.

The Testimony of John

John understood both aspects of who Jesus was.

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

Jesus came into the world after his cousin John (he was younger), but John said ‘I am not worthy to untie even his sandal strap.’ He has come to be before me because he existed first. He is is the eternal one who has come into the world, and he is worthy of all worship. But he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Everyone in Israel knew how a lamb took away sin. It was slaughtered. It became a sacrifice. It received the death penalty as an innocent stand-in for a guilty person. It gave its life as a substitute. Jesus was the eternal one who entered our world, and he is worthy of all worship, but he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus would be worshiped as the king coming on the clouds in glory, but he must pay for our sins with his own blood first. The cross before the crown. This is why he came.

Worship and Imitation

What does all this have to do with us? First, it is reason to worship. Jesus, being God from all eternity is worthy of our worship. But Jesus came to die for your sins to rescue you and put on display the riches of God’s glorious grace. He would be worthy of our worship if he never stooped to save us. Every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. But what a treasure we have! That he did come! For us! To rescue us! What amazing undeserved grace! We can worship him not only at the worthy king, but as our savior, rescuer, friend. We have a man standing on our behalf in heaven. God took on our nature to be with us, to suffer for us, to advocate for us. What a savior! Worthy of worship!

Philippians invites us to have our affections stirred for Jesus, to take encouragement and comfort in his love for us, but also to learn from him. To be like him. To follow him. We will reign with him. We are promised his inheritance. We are welcomed in. The cross before the crown.

Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

The cross before the crown. We don’t have to grasp at power and position and possessions. God has promised us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1Pet.1:4). God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph.1:3). It is ours in Christ Jesus. We have been given it. We don’t need to compete for it. Our interests are looked after by none other than our Lord Jesus Christ himself! We are freed now to look after the interests of others. We can count others more significant than ourselves. Jesus has freed us to love, sacrificially love, because we have been perfectly loved. So church, love boldly!

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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December 24, 2018 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail

08/05_2 Corinthians 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180805_2cor4_3-4.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is describing authentic Christian ministry. We have been entrusted with ministry by God’s mercy, God’s pity and compassion that moves him to action to help the desperate. We have this ministry by his mercy, so we do not lose heart. We renounce hidden things of shame. We refuse to use every means possible; we refuse to adulterate God’s word (if we adulterate the one thing that has the power to transform, then what hope is there?) Instead, we plainly proclaim the truth. It is by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience. All this happens under the watchful eye of God.

So we do not lose heart, grow faint, get discouraged, burn out, give up, quit. We do not lose heart in the face of opposition. We do not lose heart in the face of criticism. We do not lose heart in the face of discouraging circumstances. We do not lose heart in the face of ministry failures.

How can this be? How can we not lose heart, how can we not give up persevering in ministry when we fail in that very ministry? When that ministry fails to produce the intended results? How do we explain ineffective ministry?

Spiritual Blindness

I’ve seen a lot of different types of ministry, and I have seen some very different responses to gospel ministry. In our very active student ministry in high school, we did everything from stranger evangelism on the streets to concert events where we invited people and the gospel was presented. I remember many fumbling conversations where I just couldn’t seem to find the right words or know how to respond to questions, and the frustration of feeling like a failure. I remember one particular event where we had invited friends, and the speaker gave a captivating presentation, and explained the gospel more plainly and clearly than I had ever heard before. It was so clear, so compelling, you just had to trust Jesus! I couldn’t imagine an unbeliever hearing that, who wouldn’t be eager to respond with faith in Jesus. I looked over at the friend I had brought. Nothing. I was looking forward to the conversation on the way home. Nothing. So I asked, ‘what’d you think?’ ‘It was ok.’ ‘What did you think of the speaker, what he said?’ ‘It was all right I guess. I’m not really that in to all that religious stuff.’ I sat there in stunned disbelief. How could you possibly sit there and hear what we just heard and be totally unaffected? It was like we must have heard different speakers. What room were you in? Were you even listening? It was all right?! He told you you have sinned, and sin separates you from a holy God who made you and loves you. But Jesus came to pay the debt you owe so you could have a relationship with him. Religion? He didn’t say anything about religion!

This was an eye-opener for me. How could you listen to that clear a proclamation of the gospel and not get it; totally miss it? It was like my friend was blind to what was said.

Listen to what our passage says:

2 Corinthians 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Spiritual Warfare

The fault is not always in the messenger or the presentation. Sometimes it is. We can work to improve our communication skills. We can always grow in our ability to lay out the gospel plainly. But the fault is not always in the messenger. There is a supernatural battle going on. There is a spiritual dimension to evangelism.

We are not talking about math; two plus two is four – do you believe that? We are proclaiming that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave alive – do you believe? ‘Wait, are you telling me that I am a sinner? I don’t think it’s right that God would kill somebody over some minor offense. Jesus, yeah, I believe he existed and was a great moral teacher. It’s really unfortunate what they did to him. But this nonsense about rising from the dead – I’m not so sure.’ When we say ‘do you believe?’ we are not asking if you agree that it is true or that it really happened; that is only a part of it. We are asking ‘do you trust him? Are you relying on Jesus, depending on him completely?’

There is a spiritual battle going on in the minds of unbelievers. The god of this world; when we chose to listen to, to obey the word of the serpent over the word of God; we gave our allegiance to the devil; we made him our god. Jesus calls him ‘the ruler of this world’ in John 12:31. 1 John 5:19 says that:

1 John 5:19 … the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the whole armor of God that we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; against the rulers and authorities; the cosmic powers; this present darkness; the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Put on truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, with all-prayer. Paul ends this description of our spiritual battle with a very specific request:

Ephesians 6:19 …that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 … that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Stand equipped in gospel truth, gospel righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, gospel dependence, gospel defense; speak the word of God with all prayer and petition at all times in the Spirit with all perseverance.

Confidence Even In Ministry Failure; God’s Word Never Fails

Paul has been talking about veils that obstruct the real purpose from view, minds that were hardened, veils that lie over their hearts when God’s word is read. He said ‘only through Christ is it taken away’ (3:14); ‘if one turns to the Lord the veil is removed’ (3:16). ‘This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ (3:18).

Paul is defending his ministry; he doesn’t adulterate the word; he doesn’t use tricks to manipulate or deceive. He plainly and simply proclaims the truth of the gospel. And even with the right message and the right methods, that open statement of the truth sometimes seems to fail.

I say ‘seems to fail’ because it never really fails. God’s word always accomplishes its purpose, always.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God’s word always accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it. But we tend to think that the only goal of ministry is conversion. When God sent Isaiah back in chapter 6,

Isaiah 6:9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

God told Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 7:27 “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.

This is not the kind of promise we are looking for in ministry. We would love it if everyone responded positively to the gospel. But Paul recognized two categories of people, two responses to the gospel.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Back in 1 Corinthians he said

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul divided humanity into two categories; those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The gospel, and the messenger of the gospel comes as a fragrance to both. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom.1:16). And the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men …so they are without excuse (Rom.1:18-20).

God always accomplishes his purposes. He sends us to warn some in their rebellion, to heighten their accountability; to others he uses us as his instrument to give life and set them free. To one a fragrance of death into death; to the other a fragrance of life into life. Although our desire, as God’s is that none should perish and all should come to repentance, we should not gauge success in ministry by the number of professions of faith. We talk about successful ministry; instead we should pursue faithful ministry. We would not consider Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel successful ministries; but we would call them faithful ministers.

2 Timothy 2 puts it this way:

2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Sowing Seed

Jesus compared it to a sower sowing seed. He scattered his seed all over.

Luke 8:5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.

Jesus explains:

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

Notice who takes away the word from their hearts; who blinds the minds of unbelievers? The devil, the evil one immediately snatches away what has been sown in his heart (Mt.13:19; Mk.4:15). Faithful sowing gets the seed out to everyone. Sometimes the word does not even have a chance to germinate in the mind before even the thought is snatched away. The fault is not in the seed. Neither is the fault in the sower. The fault is in the differing soils.

We have been looking at authentic gospel ministry. Faithful ministry can be defined as scattering seed. The open statement of the truth. Don’t tamper with, don’t adulterate the seed. Don’t attempt to genetically modify the seed, thinking you will get enhanced results. The pure word, the simple gospel, is what God uses to produce life.

Don’t get overly critical of methods of scattering seed. Everyone is different, uniquely designed by our amazingly creative God. I have found that if you scatter the seed this way, it works best. Are you an overhand seed scatterer or an underhand seed scatterer. Just don’t be underhanded in your seed scattering. Do you use one of those things with the crank that scatters the seed, or do you push one of those two wheeled seed scatterers? People write books on how to scatter seed. Don’t waste a lot of time evaluating techniques. It doesn’t really matter. Just get it out there!

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Do you hear that? God gave the growth. Only God gives the growth. Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything. Anything!

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

We are not sufficient to claim anything, anything as coming from ourselves. God has made us competent. Take great courage in the fact that your competency does not come from your technique or even your success rate. Our sufficiency for gospel ministry is from God.

The Glory of the Gospel

Before we leave this passage today, we’ve got to get to the good stuff! Even in the negative, it’s beautiful. In chapter 3, Paul has been talking about glory, the glory of Moses’ ministry, and the surpassingly greater glory of the New Covenant ministry. He’s been talking about glory that is veiled, glory that is concealed. And he’s talked about beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. What is it that the god of this world wants to keep us from seeing? What is the glory of the gospel?

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

O do not be blind to this today! Do not let Satan blind you to the glory of the good news! He wants to harden your mind and veil your heart and keep you from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ! Jesus said:

John 8:12 … “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The light of the gospel is a person. It is only the blind who cannot see the light. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God. Satan would blind you to the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus is ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb.1:3). Jesus is the word made flesh; God with us.

O ask for eyes to see more of the glory of Christ! Do not be choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (Mk.4:19), and miss the glory of Christ! O press in to see more of Jesus. Turn to the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Turn to the Lord with unveiled face. Gaze on the beauty of the Lord. Look to Jesus! See the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

August 8, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough?

05/13_2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180513_2cor3_4-6.mp3

Confidence of Ministry Competence

Are you competent to minister to people? Are you confident of your competence? Do you possess confidence? Even boldness?

Specifically when you see spiritual needs around you; hurting broken people who don’t know Jesus. Self-righteous people who don’t think they need Jesus. Brothers or sisters struggling to follow Jesus, faltering or wandering away. Do you look at those spiritual needs around you with confident boldness that you are competent to minister to them?

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, Paul is talking about confidence in ministry competence.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

Such is the confidence that we have. We have this kind of confidence. What kind of confidence does he have? ‘Such’ refers back to his last paragraphs.

It is this kind of confidence or boldness or persuasion:

2:14 confidence always to be led on display by God in Christ

confidence to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere

2:15 confidence to be the fragrance of Christ to God

2:16 confidence to be the aroma of death to the perishing;

confidence to be the aroma of life to those being saved

2:17 confidence to be people of sincerity /integrity

confidence as (sent) of God and in the presence of God

confidence to speak in Christ

3:3 confidence that through our ministry Christ has been written on your tender hearts with the Spirit of the living God

This is staggering confidence! Startling boldness! Would you be able to claim this sort of confidence?

Means and Scope of Confidence

Where does he get this kind of confidence?

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

The means of his confidence is ‘through Christ.’ Oh do not slide casually over words in the text of Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2Tim3:16). Every word of God proves true (Prov30:5). Not the smallest stroke of a letter will pass away until all is fulfilled (Mat5:18). It is easy for us to just slip past words that God gave us for our building up. We can only have this confidence through Christ or not at all. It is through faith in Christ, by means of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for my sins that I can have boldness and confident access through grace into the presence of God. It is only because of the finished work of Christ that I have any good message to give to sinners alienated from God. The only means of our confidence is through Christ.

The scope of his confidence is ‘toward God.’ As a kid, you talk big with your friends, but when the powerful or important or intimidating person is in the room, suddenly all that confidence gets deflated. Are there people around whom you have more confidence than others? In your circle of friends, around those you know love and accept you, you have a level of confidence. But around those you are intimidated by, that confidence evaporates. Paul says that his confidence is ‘toward God.’ That is an amazing statement. Who is possibly more intimidating than God, the God of the universe, the holy and just judge, against whom we have sinned, the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. He is the one we ought to be most intimidated by, and we are constantly under his watchful eye. If we can be confident in his presence, no human power ought to intimidate us. And Paul says that it is toward God that he is confident. He is confident of his identity, and he is confident of where his identity comes from. Yes, Paul is a sinner, the chief of sinners, who fully deserves the just wrath of the all-holy God. But Paul knows peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows the forgiveness of sins through his blood. Paul knows the love of God poured out in his heart through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us. Paul knows his identity. He is a pardoned sinner, washed clean, given new life, reconciled fully, loved extravagantly, accepted, adopted. Paul knows who he is, and he knows where his identity comes from. It is through Christ that he has been forgiven, cleansed, set free, reconciled, loved.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

He has confidence of his sufficiency as a minister of the gospel to spread the knowledge of Jesus all the time in every place, to those who are being saved the aroma of life to life, to those who are perishing the aroma of death to death. He is confident of his competence before the all watchful eye of God the Father.

No Sufficiency From Ourselves

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul is confident of his identity before God, and he knows where his competence or sufficiency comes from. It is not from himself. It is not internal. It is from outside himself; it is a gift given to him.

In 2:16, after describing a ministry that brings eternal life to some and eternal death to others, Paul asks ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ Here he answers his own question. ‘We are sufficient, but our sufficiency does not come from us.’ We have confidence of our sufficiency in Christ before God, but our sufficiency does not come from ourselves.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim [lit. to reckon, suppose, conclude or think] anything as coming from us. This is humbling. Any ministry I do, I am not to draw the conclusion that any of that was from me. I can’t take credit for anything. That’s what the text says. Any competency, any sufficiency, I am not to think that anything, anything, ANYTHING came from me. I am not sufficient, I am not competent, I am not adequate in myself. Didn’t Jesus say ‘apart from me you can do nothing? (Jn.15:5)’ Zero, zilch, nada, nothing. I am not sufficient to think of anything as coming from me.

Full-Time Ministry

How many of you are in full-time ministry? Show me hands. How many of you claim to be followers of Jesus? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in full-time ministry. We use that phrase to describe people who earn a living by their ministry. And that is legitimate. But I don’t care where you earn your living, if you follow Jesus, he has called you to full time ministry. In your family, with your friends, at your work, in your free time, you are a minister. But at my job, they don’t allow me to talk about Jesus. That’s fine. You are a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel by your quiet character and integrity, your faithfulness, your diligence, your self sacrificial service for the good of others. Let me ask again, how many of you are in full time ministry? Ministry means service. Service to others.

We tend to think of ministry in terms of preaching and outreach and church service. And that is important. Paul is talking here primarily about his own apostolic ministry. But I want you to see all of life as ministry. Paul’s apostolic ministry wasn’t only when he was preaching in front of a crowd. Paul at times worked a regular job. How are you serving your employer, your co-workers? How are you serving your spouse, your children? How are you ministering to every person you come in contact with? Paul says that ‘through us God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’ Not only in words that are heard. But in a fragrance that is smelled. Do people around you sense something different about you? Without you having to say anything?

Broken people were attracted to Jesus. Needy people were following him around all the time. It seemed he couldn’t get away from them. They sensed something about him that gave them hope. Are they attracted to you? We have a message that can raise the dead!

This verse absolutely blew my mind when I first read it. I still remember where I was and who I was with. Jesus said to his followers:

John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Greater works than Jesus? Jesus was healing the lame, opening blind eyes, cleansing lepers, even raising the dead. Greater works than these? How can that be? Notice, he doesn’t say a few select church leaders. He says ‘whoever believes in me.’ That means me. That means you! Through our ministry the Holy Spirit will open blind eyes to the beauty of the gospel, through our ministry he will cleanse people from their sin, through us he will raise dead sinners to eternal life and make them whole and complete in Christ. Greater works than these? Yes!

Are broken people attracted to you? You have a message that can set them free, give them life! Who is sufficient for these things?

Upside-down Confidence

You are, if you recognize that ‘you are not sufficient in yourself to claim anything as coming from you, but your sufficiency is from God.’

Are you weak enough to be confident? This is upside-down thinking. You have to go back to progress; you have to go down to rise up, you have to empty yourself to make room for God to fill you to overflowing. Does your adequacy come from an acute aware of your own incompetence? You have to recognize that your fitness, your competence, your sufficiency for ministry does not come from you. Do you think that anything comes from yourself? To the extent you conclude that you contribute, that you have something you can claim as your part, that you can boast about, to that extent you are unfit for ministry.

Paul said in chapter 1, talking about his afflictions,

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God used affliction to wean Paul away from any self-dependence and force him to rely completely on the resurrecting God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, speaking of his role as apostle,

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Do you hear that? Paul considered himself unworthy. But his identity came from God’s grace. And God’s grace transformed him into something he was not fit to be. God’s undeserved kindness is powerful and transformational. And he says, comparing himself with the other apostles ‘I worked harder than any of them.’ But he is quick to clarify. I worked harder than any of them, but none of that was me. It did not come from me. It did not originate with me. It was God’s grace at work in me.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

God made us sufficient. Do you feel insufficient? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel unworthy? Good! You should. You are. I am. That is a prerequisite for fruitful ministry. Are you weak enough for God to use you?

So That God Gets the Glory

Remember Gideon? The Angel of the LORD addressed him ‘O mighty man of valor’ (Jdg.6:12) while he was beating out the wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. When he was told to pull down his father’s idols burn them and make a sacrifice to the LORD, he did it by night, ‘because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day’ (Jdg.6:27). But it says ‘the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon’ (6:34) and he rallied an army of 32,000 to fight against the Midianites and Amalekites and the people of the East who had assembled against them, who ‘lay along the valley like locust in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (7:12).

Judges 7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

Do you hear what God says? Against an innumerable multitude, 32,000 are too many because you might be tempted to claim something as coming from yourselves. You might take credit. You might boast over God, saying ‘my own hand saved me’.

Judges 7:4 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many.

10,000 is still too many. God was going to give the Midianites into their hand, and he refused to allow them to think that they contributed in any way. So God thinned the army down to 300 men. And the 300 men were armed with trumpets and empty jars and torches inside the jars. No sword, no spear, not even a sling is mentioned. Just musical instruments, and empty clay pots with a fire burning inside. And the LORD gave the host of Midian into their hand. They were told to make some noise and stand their ground. They could claim nothing as coming from themselves. Their sufficiency was totally from God.

Psalm 115 begins:

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, because not from us, not from us, we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, so no glory comes to us. Instead, to your name give glory. It is your steadfast covenant love, it is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 3:5 …but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We are sufficient, because we freely acknowledge that we are insufficient in ourselves. Our sufficiency comes from God. He makes what we are not. He makes us sufficient. Sufficient for ministry. Sufficient to be ministers of the life giving ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant.

Are you weak enough for God to transform lives through your service, because you recognize that you are not sufficient to consider anything as coming from yourself? Are you weak enough for God to use you, are you weak enough to give God all the glory for what he does in you and through you?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 16, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:15-16; Confidence and Double Grace

11/12 2 Corinthians 1:15-16; Confidence and Double Grace ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171112_2cor1_15-16.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Change in Plans

Paul’s travel plans had changed. In 1 Corinthians 4:19, he mentioned sending Timothy to Corinth, and he says “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills.” At the end of 1 Corinthians, he says

1 Corinthians 16:5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.

This plan didn’t happen. Timothy sent word to Paul that the Corinthians didn’t respond well to 1 Corinthians. Paul changed his plans and made an emergency visit to Corinth. This proved to be a difficult confrontation, a ‘painful visit’ (2Cor.2:1). Paul then returned from Corinth to Ephesus.

His plan, as he states here, was to complete his ministry in Ephesus, sail to Corinth, continue up through Macedonia to receive their collection, then stop again in Corinth on his way back to Jerusalem with the collection. Instead, when he received news that things only got worse in Corinth after his painful visit, he sent Titus with a ‘severe letter’ (2Cor.2:3-4). Now, writing to them from Macedonia after meeting Titus, he is aware that some are questioning his integrity and his spirituality. How can he really be spiritual if he’s not in tune enough to lay out godly travel plans? Paul here communicates his heart, what he wanted to do, and why he changed his plans and did what he did. The specifics of why he changed his plans don’t come until the beginning of chapter 2, but he begins by grounding their confidence in the faithful character of God in the gospel.

Confidence

Paul begins by saying ‘Because I was sure of this.’ Sure of what? ‘And persuaded by this’ or ‘and in this confidence.’ What was Paul confident of? Look back at verses 12-14.

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

Paul is confident in the testimony of his own conscience. He is sure that he lived with simplicity and sincerity, that he lived by the grace of God. He is supremely confident in the gospel, that it will accomplish its intended purpose, both in him and in the Corinthians, ‘that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.’ The gospel will bring both he and they into the presence of the Lord, where their only boast will be a boast in the amazing grace and faithfulness of God. Paul’s confidence is not in the fickle Corinthians, nor on his own personal reliability in making his plans under the sovereign purposes of God. Paul’s confidence is squarely on the power of the gospel and the faithful character of God.

Second Grace; Help on the Journey

2 Corinthians 1:15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.

Paul’s purpose, based on his confidence in the gospel, was to come to Corinth first in order that they might have a second grace. What does this mean, ‘in order that you might have a second grace?’ Clearly, this second grace is related to the two proposed visits, the first on the way to Macedonia, and the second returning from Macedonia. This language sounds similar to Romans 1

Romans 1:9 …I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

We might read 2 Corinthians in light of this passage in Romans, and read into it a desire to impart grace to them to strengthen them by an apostolic visit. But the language of Romans is quite different from the language here in 2 Corinthians. Actually, the language of Romans 15 is closer to the language of 2 Corinthians than Romans 1.

Romans 15:23 …since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

This word ‘to be helped on my journey there’ is the same word translated ‘have you send me on my way’ in 2 Corinthians 1:16. This is also what we saw in 1 Corinthians 16:6 of ‘helping me on my journey, wherever I go,’ as well as 1 Corinthians 16:11, of ‘helping Timothy on his way in peace, that he may return to me.’ It seems there was a practice of churches partnering with the apostle or his co-workers in his ministry by sending them forward on their way, funding their travel and providing for their needs as they went out to advance the gospel.

No Obstacle to the Gospel

We also understand that Paul did not receive payment from the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 11 he says:

2 Corinthians 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

Paul refused to allow the Corinthians to pay him. The culture in Corinth was a patronage culture, where a wealthy benefactor could sponsor a slave and grant him his freedom, but that freedman would now be obligated to his patron to give honor. A wealthy patron could also hire a scholar to teach, and the more he paid, the more prestigious an education he could claim. Paul refused to play into this cultural climate, refusing to take any payment for his teaching, refusing to become indebted to anyone.

In 1 Corinthians 9, he said:

1 Corinthians 9:11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Paul refused to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel. In Corinth, receiving payment for preaching the gospel would imply that it was a message only for the wealthy who could afford to pay, and would put the gospel out of reach of the average Corinthian. He went on:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

…18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Many in Corinth took offense at his refusal to allow them to support him. But here Paul desired to offering them double grace.

Double Grace

What does Paul mean by this second grace? They had experienced God’s grace when they received the gospel. Grace is the polar opposite of earning, as we learned in Romans 4.

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Wages are not reckoned according to grace but according to debt. Grace and wages have nothing to do with one another. Wages are earned. Grace is undeserved, freely given. The gospel is the message that God’s favor cannot be earned. No amount of good works can indebt God to us that he must pay us back. God’s righteousness comes only as a gift freely given to those who are unrighteous and undeserving. We cannot merit it; another paid the price in full. Grace is God’s loving and God’s freely giving. When we begin to understand grace, when we begin to see God for who he is, when we see ourselves as we are, we begin to recognize that all of life is grace. Every breath is a gift we do not deserve.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Our salvation from the wages of our sin is all of grace, and every moment is grace, but what does Paul mean here by a second grace linked to a double visit? It cannot be that they experience salvation a second time.

This second grace must be linked to the sending forward of the apostle. Verse 16 spells this out in three movements. Paul’s desire was that ‘through you he would travel through to Macedonia’ His language indicates that his travel to Macedonia would happen through or by means of the generosity of the Corinthians. This was to be his first coming to them and their first grace. ‘And again from Macedonia to come to you.’ This was the second movement. ‘And by you to be sent forward to Judea.’ This was the third movement, and the second grace, to send him forward.

Paul did not allow churches to pay him for his services, but he did allow them the grace of providing for the advance of the gospel as he left them to travel on. This understanding sees grace not as grace to be received, but grace to be given. The Corinthians had received all of God’s grace toward them in the gospel. Now they had been set free from the earning – obligation – debt cycle to freely give.

The Grace of Giving

Paul uses this word ‘grace’ in this sense unmistakably in reference to the collection for Jerusalem in 1 Corinthians 16.

1 Corinthians 16:3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift [grace] to Jerusalem.

The collection the Corinthians make for the poor saints in Jerusalem in called ‘your grace’. They will carry your grace to Jerusalem.’

In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul talks more about this grace of giving.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief of the saints—

God’s grace was given and they begged for the grace of fellowship in the service to the saints. Notice this grace of giving is an expression of God’s grace given to them.

2 Corinthians 8:6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. …9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

The collection of money is referred to as ‘this grace.’ And it is grounded on knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is the initiating grace that births in us a grace toward others. We have received freely that which we did not deserve at great cost to Jesus. We then are set free to freely give, not in order to earn anything, but out of the eager overflow of what we have freely received. We are ‘set free to meet the needs of others, because God has met our needs in Christ’ [ESVSB note]. God’s grace is a transforming grace. It births grace in us toward others. This is the confidence Paul had in the gospel, that it creates grace in the lives of those who have been transformed by God’s free and undeserved grace. Paul’s confidence was not in the Corinthians, but in God’s transforming grace, that creates grace in all who have truly received his grace, to see his grace freely proclaimed to more and more and more people.

Giving for the Glory of God

2 Corinthians 8:19 …as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

This grace is ultimately for the glory of the Lord himself. We do not give to get. We do not give to get recognition or praise. We do not give to get rewards or status. We give only, exclusively to give glory to God. Our giving brings glory to God because our grace in giving is birthed in us in response to his grace freely given to us. Freely you have received, freely give (Mt.10:8 KJV).

2 Corinthians 1:15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.

What is your confidence in? Your faithfulness? Someone else’s faithfulness? Or is it in the gospel alone?

Do you consider giving to advance the gospel an obligation? A burden? Or a grace?

Have you been set free to give to the needs of others because God has met all your needs in Christ?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

November 14, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment