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- Hymn: CW 818 “My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone”
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Yr B, Epiphany 4 January 28, 2024
2 Corinthians 5:11-21 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
Crazy in Christ
1) Compelled by Christ’s love
2) Created in Christ’s image
3) Committed to Christ’s message
Sometimes the best introduction to a sermon is just the text that the sermon is built on. That’s the case today. Let me read the opening verses of this text again. Paul writes, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is plain to your conscience… [Then in verse 13.) If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God.”
Those words set up this whole section of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The Apostle is defending his fierce devotion to ministry because it seems that some were saying that he and his fellow preachers much be crazy to do what they were doing. And in a sense, they kind of were. Paul had once been a respected Jew, born to an important family, trained by a famous teacher. A “Jew among Jews” he called himself. But he threw it all away as rubbish after his conversion. He went on the road and shared the news that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for. And worse, he told the Gentiles that Jesus came for them too! And what did he get for it? In some places he was just scorned and ridiculed. In other cities he was stoned and left for dead or forced to leave and go elsewhere. To look at it logically, yes Paul was crazy to do what he was doing.
But he says here that he isn’t concerned about what people say. His concern is God’s perspective. God’s opinion. Christ changed Paul on that road to Damascus when he was called to faith. And now in these words Paul tells the Corinthians that he might be a little out of his mind for God, but that it makes sense in Christ. Paul’s higher purpose came because he was 1) compelled by Christ’s love, 2) created in Christ’s image, and 3) committed to Christ’s message. And why does that matter so much to us? Because we have the same three reasons to recognize the higher purpose God has called us to as well.
In verse 14 Paul says that he is Compelled by Christ’s love. Now, compelled is a strong word. If we are compelled to do something, it’s a necessary thing for us – we’re almost forced to do it without choice. And there are two truths about Christ’s love that compels Paul. First, he says that he is compelled “because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Paul understood the heart of Christian hope. That Jesus’ death on a cross wasn’t a token or tribute, but instead a vicarious sacrifice. His death was our death. You know, the one that Scripture says our wages earn. The death that Ezekiel says awaits every soul that sins. The death God told Adam way back in the garden that flowed from our sinful disobedience to his loving will. But with Christ’s death in our place, our death is already done. Yes, our weakened bodies of sin will wear out and we will physically die but we won’t. When Jesus told Martha at the tomb of Lazarus that believers will never die, he wasn’t exaggerating. At the moment of our bodily death, our souls rest in the paradise Jesus promised to the thief on the cross.
This is the message that drove Paul in his mission. The truth that should drive all of us. We sinners, who should only trudge through this life on the unavoidable road to hell, get to rejoice instead that God reconciled us to himself fin Christ instead. We who were separated from him by nature, objects of his wrath, are now his. This is the gospel call we heard last week – that God calls us into his family and makes us his own. I pray you Christians, don’t let familiarity rob you of the joy and meaning of this amazing grace – Jesus paid for sins.
In fact, Paul says Jesus’ death paid for the sins of the whole world. Jesus doesn’t have to do anything more. We don’t have to do anything more. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone is saved. If someone buys me a new mansion and gives me a key, but I don’t believe him and never move in – the mansion is mine, but I don’t benefit from the gift. In the same way, only those with faith enjoy the benefit of Christ’s payment for us. But we’ll have to talk about that in another sermon or Bible study. We’ve got to move on.
The second truth that drives Paul as he is compelled by Christ’s love is in verse 15. “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” This is the foundation of our higher purpose. That God has called me out of the meaningless selfishness of a life lived for myself. He’s given me a meaning in life as I now see every day as an opportunity to live for a more noble goal. Not to serve myself but to serve God.
Does that look crazy? Yes! The person who forsakes the world’s wealth to instead enjoy spiritual peace looks like a fool. The one who dedicates her time to serving in the church at the expense of career advancement and luxury travel knows the whispers of the world around her. But we don’t mind. Like Paul, be concerned about God’s opinion, not man’s. Be compelled by Christ’s love and live for Christ instead. Because you are called to something higher.
In Christ, God brings us to him, reconciles us, Paul says. God restores a relationship lost by choosing to look at us and see Christ instead. Verse 21 is the core of how I explain what Jesus did when I’m sharing my faith. In fact, I want you to read it with me. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you see the exchange? We already heard that Jesus took our sin, our death. But in exchange we become his righteousness. In essence, we are saved not because we change, but because God changed the way he looks at us. In fact, in verse 17 Paul goes so far as to say, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” In faith, we are created again, in Christ’s image. And this new creation knows the truth of our reconciliation and cherishes it. As new creations we seek to hold onto this new relationship with God as tightly as a child who was lost holds onto the mother who just found them.
Does this love in Christ that compels us as new creations perhaps make us look a little crazy? I suppose. We find two specific examples here in this part of Paul’s letter. In verse 16 Paul tell us “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Christians, please listen to this because too many people don’t get it. We look at people in an entirely different way than the rest of the world. We know that every soul is precious: The guy at work with the off-color jokes and the potty-mouth? He’s a soul that God loves. The bully in the classroom or the boring teacher that puts you to sleep? A treasure in God’s eyes and a treasure to us. The fetus in the womb. The terminally ill. The immigrant and the widow. We see them all with love.
And we recognize that every soul is in mortal danger. Everybody loves John 3:16 but do you know John 3:18? “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” The one without Jesus stands condemned already. Right now – there is urgency to see them and speak to them and if that makes us a little crazy in the eyes of others so be it. The eternal future of souls is at stake. Don’t worry about the names they might call us or the looks they might give!
Paul was crazy about sharing the message of reconciliation because it matters. We are ambassadors proclaiming a divine message. You are God’s mouthpiece. Verse 20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” We are the latter-day Jonahs, sent into enemy territory so that God might save some. We are the Peters and Andrews and James and John called to set aside what only matters for a little while so that we can work at what matters forever. You’re not just a Christian. You’re called to be so much more.
So, are we crazy Christians like Paul? Maybe not yet, but we could be. God wants us to be. Our neighbors need us to be. Brothers and sisters, we are entirely new creations in Christ. The love he shows to us, if we truly appreciate it, compels us to be different and to be bold. Commit yourself to the joy of this message of reconciliation for yourself and the urgency of this message of reconciliation for your unchurched friends and family and neighbors. In this Epiphany season we see Christ clearly. Let us show him to them as well. Amen.