Preached: June 10, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is 2 Corinthians 4
For we are not preaching ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord -- and ourselves as your servants because of Jesus. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness” -- he shines in our hearts to enlighten us with the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
We have this treasure in clay jars, in order that the surpassing greatness of the power may be God’s and not from us. In every way we are afflicted but not crushed, confused but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, thrown down but not destroyed. We’re always carrying around the death of Jesus in our bodies, in order that the real life of Jesus may clearly be seen in our own bodies. That is, we, who spiritually live, are handed over into death because of Jesus, in order that the real life of Jesus may also be clearly seen in our mortal flesh, so that death works in us but life works in you. (2 Corinthians 4:5-12).
This is the word of our Lord.
Clay jars were the common storage containers of the ancient world. Don’t think of exquisite pottery that people today may display as works of art. Rather think of plastic Cool Whip containers. But unlike plastic containers, clays jars weren’t only cheap, they were breakable as well. That’s how the Apostle looked at his earthly existence. When do you struggle, dear friend, feeling like a throw-away jar made out of clay?
Yet to a frail, breakable human being like Paul, the Lord had entrusted the treasure that nothing else measures up to. And he has entrusted you as well, dear Christian, with that same treasure. He has shone into your heart so that the knowledge of the glory of God that radiates only from the face of Jesus now enlightens you. What a treasure!
May the Holy Spirit with the Word of God open our hearts today to ponder that wonder: Our Lord’s treasure shines out through our struggles. Keep that theme in mind.
Go back to the beginning, the very beginning. No earth. No sun. No stars. There wasn’t even space or time. But into this utter darkness God’s voice calls out: “Let light shine out of the darkness” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV84) So began the very first day.
The same God has worked a similar miracle in you and me, dear Christians. His word penetrated the pitch black darkness of our hearts. Through his voice calling out in Baptism and the Scriptures, he himself has shone into our hearts, shattering the darkness of our sin, spiritual ignorance, and stubborn unbelief. What treasure his light brings!
And what is this light? It is “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV84). What is this glory that shines from the face of Christ, that sacred head once wounded with grief and shame weighed down, once scornfully surround with thorns his only crown? What glory shines from him? God’s saving glory. Christ entered our darkness to rescue us. He suffered our death to save us. His death brings us life, for he has risen from the dead in victory. His divine glory now shines from his face, no longer pale in death but beaming with life for all who believe.
No wonder the Apostle Paul, or any true pastor, does not preach himself or his ideas or his insights, but rather he preaches Jesus Christ as Lord. That’s how a faithful pastor serves the flock that Jesus has entrusted to him. That’s why we call pastors ministers as well. Minister means servant. He serves by preaching Jesus Christ as Lord so that the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ keeps shining into our hearts. That’s true enlightenment. That’s the treasure that shatters our darkness.
Now, dear friends, don’t get the wrong idea about that word lord. In our era of democracies, lord can have a negative connotation. We might picture a harsh ruler, even a dictator. To lord it over someone is haughty, presumptuous, and domineering. How different Jesus Christ, our Lord, is!
Remember what Jesus told his disciples. He did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28 NIV84). When we call Jesus our Lord, we confess that he has ransomed us to be his very own people. He has redeemed us at the price of his holy, precious blood so that we are his and he is our Lord. We were once not a people. But while we were still his enemies, he gave his life to rescue us. He won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. He taken us lost and condemned creatures and purchased us to be his very own. We are his. What a treasure to know Jesus Christ as your Lord!
Now since through faith in him you are his blood-bought people, be confident that he cares for you. Look at his love that sacrificed himself for you. Look at his power that conquered death for you. He is your mighty and merciful Lord. He certainly provides for you no matter what the need. He certainly protects you no matter how great the danger. For he is your Lord. No one can snatch you out of his care.
But what about the struggles we face in life. If my Lord is so powerful and so caring, why isn’t my life better? Why does he leave us as jars of clay? Why doesn’t he make something stronger, like iron or steal? Have you ever wrestled with those kinds of thoughts? The Bible has a lot to say on this question of suffering, most of which we can’t cover today. But the second half of the text teaches us a couple of truths about this.
The Apostle Paul knew the difficulties of Christian's struggle in this life. He gave up a promising career as a rising star among the Pharisees. He faced ridicule from his fellow countrymen, labeled as a traitor of their heritage and religion. He faced the difficulties and dangers of travel as well as unjust imprisonment, beatings, and even stoning as he spread the word of God. He struggled with his thorn in the flesh that they Lord did not take away despite his prayers. He carried the cares and concerns of the young Christian congregations, with whom he could only spend a short time. Would they continue following Jesus? Would persecution drive them to give up on Jesus? Would false doctrine devour their faith? Would the world's flashy promise entice them back to its ways? And finally might he, after preaching to so many, fall away and lose the prize?
Paul knew physical struggles, psychological struggles, spiritual struggles. Hard pressed on every side, hemmed in. Perplexed and at a loss at which way to go next. Pursued and persecuted. Even struck down with the trouble standing over him ready to do him. Do you understand the struggles Paul went through? Haven’t each of us struggled as well -- physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, spiritually? Just as Jesus was put to death, so the world is constantly trying to put us to death. Clay jars -- that’s what we are!
Yet no matter how great the affliction, no matter how grave the danger, no matter how severe the struggle, the life that Jesus, our Lord, won for his people shines out. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). Yes, we, who have eternal life through faith in Jesus, we, who are truly alive before God, we face this world's deadly hatred because we follow Jesus, this world's hatred that wears down our mortal bodies of flesh and blood. Yet the harder our earthly existence the more clearly the real life Jesus has won for us can shine out.
Why is life such a struggle even though we follow a merciful and might Lord? The first part of the answer the text shows us is: So that God’s all-surpassing power, the only power that can save, shine out for all to see. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV1984).
So dear Christian friends, as you face the struggles of your earthly existence -- the physical, emotional, mental, psychology, and spiritual struggles -- make it clear that it’s Jesus Christ, your God and Savior, your Lord, who brings you through. That’s a very simple thought, but how difficult for us to put into practice! Think of the way people talk about how they make it through life. Who or what gets the credit? Good luck and blind chance. Family and friends. Hard work and determination. Will-power and goal-setting. Character and values. Now, many of these can be gifts from God to help us, but don’t push the Giver into the background. Let his all-surpassing power shine out through your struggles. The power doesn’t come from you or me. The power is his. Make that clear by your words and actions. Make that clear for all to see.
And the second part of the answer that the text shows us is this: Others come to know the life-giving light shining from the face of Christ as they see God’s saving power at work in you and me despite the deadly struggles we face. That’s what Paul is getting at when he writes, “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12 NIV84). Our Lord’s treasure shines out through our struggles. It’s a treasure that enlightens others. That's why we want to make it clear that the power is his.
So, dear Christian friends, we are clay jars, but that’s not bad news. Through his Word, God has shown into your heart shattering our darkness with the knowledge of his saving glory beaming from the face of Christ. He has placed that treasure in you. Let others see his all-surpassing power sustaining you no matter what the struggle, so that they too share in the life for which our Lord has redeemed them.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.